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Massive Saharan dust plume swirling across Atlantic Ocean spotted from space

NASA satellites have spotted an enormous brown plume of dust from the Sahara desert reaching out across the Atlantic Ocean. 

The vast dust cloud, spotted on June 18 was spotted by NOAA's Deep Space Climate Observatory and the NASA-NOAA satellite Suomi NPP. Views from Suomi NPP, which NASA shared here, show the dust plume spreading out over 2,000 mile of the North Atlantic Ocean.

A global view of the dust storm from DSCOVR's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) shows the sheer scale of the plume in relation to the continents which border the Atlantic, according to NASA's Earth Observatory site.

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A massive dust plume from the Sahara Desert reaches far out over the Atlantic Ocean, stretching across 2,000 miles, in this view from the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP Earth-observing satellite on June 13, 2020. (Image credit: NASA Worldview)

Also on June 18, NASA's Terra satellite was able to get a detailed look at the dust over the Cape Verde islands off Africa's west coast using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument. 

This moving plume was no surprise as earlier in the week, on June 16, NOAA's GOES-East satellite captured stunning imagery of the plume traveling from the Sahara Desert west across the Atlantic. 

The massive scale of the North Atlantic Ocean dust cloud from the Sahara Desert is clear in this full globe view from NOAA's Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite on June 18, 2020. (Image credit: NASA/Joshua Stevens/MODIS via EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview/DSCOVR/GSFC)

The traveling dust was also expected because, according to NOAA's Hurricane Research Division, every three to five days from late spring through early fall, such a dust cloud, known as the Saharan Air Layer (SAL), forms over the Sahara Desert and starts moving westward across the Atlantic. The SAL stretches anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 feet (1.5 to 6 kilometers) into the atmosphere. 

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Every year, about 800 million tons of dust is picked up by the wind from deserts in North Africa and blown across the Atlantic Ocean, traveling to the Amazon River Basin in South America, beaches in the Caribbean and, in part, into the air in North and South America.  

While the dust has a different effect in the different places where it lands, in the Amazon, the minerals in the dust replace critical nutrients in rainforest soils that are continuously carried away by tropical rains.

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Chelsea Gohd

Chelsea Gohd joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2018 and returned as a Staff Writer in 2019. After receiving a B.S. in Public Health, she worked as a science communicator at the American Museum of Natural History and even wrote an installation for the museum's permanent Hall of Meteorites. Chelsea has written for publications including Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine, Live Science, All That is Interesting, AMNH Microbe Mondays blog, The Daily Targum and Roaring Earth. When not writing, reading or following the latest space and science discoveries, Chelsea is writing music and performing as her alter ego Foxanne (@foxannemusic). You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd.